The Independence Delusion

Matt YglesiasMatt Yglesias brought my attention to some important but unsurprising recent data, Americans Are Making a Big Mistake About Healthcare. That mistake is that, overwhelmingly, they don’t think that the government subsidizes their healthcare. Overall, roughly 15% of Americans admit to getting their healthcare subsidized. I’ll get to why that is wrong in a moment, but first I want to point out the one thing in the poll that did shock me: only 7% of Americans over the age of 65 thought that they had their healthcare subsidized. How do you spell “Medicare”? D-E-L-U-S-I-O-N.

I suspect that this is due to the fact that people think they have “earned” their Social Security and Medicare. This is not true. You could just as easily say that everything that ever comes from the government has been earned because the people pay taxes and the government provides benefits to those who qualify. Of course, this is not what seniors mean they claim to have earned their Medicare. Almost to a person, the amount of money paid in isn’t even close to the amount paid out.

But these seniors who are convinced that the government ain’t given them free medical care are the ones most likely to vote for conservative candidates who want to cut welfare. So this Medicare delusion is serious business. But of course, it isn’t limited to this. There are all kinds of ways that the government gives out welfare. And the government does it in such a way that the richer you are, the less likely you are to see it as welfare. I discussed this a couple of years ago in an article, Hidden Welfare for the Rich. My favorite example is the mortgage interest deduction, which almost no one thinks of as welfare, but which clearly is. (Read the article!)

Healthcare Subsidy Poll - 2015

Yglesias explained in his article why it is that almost everyone has their healthcare subsidized. It is for pretty much the same reason that the mortgage interest deduction is welfare. Before Obamacare, you generally got your insurance from one of two places: government (Medicare, Medicare, VA) or employer. Clearly, getting it from the government is getting subsidized healthcare. But getting it from an employer is also getting subsidized healthcare. Your insurance is part of your compensation. But you don’t have to pay taxes on it. Thus: a subsidy! What Obamacare does in the healthcare exchanges is to provide people who don’t get their insurance through an employer the same benefit the government has long been giving to people who do get their insurance through an employer.

Ouch! Suddenly all those people complaining about freeloaders just sound like a bunch of privileged jackasses who have no idea that they too are freeloaders. That reminds me of something…

In the late 1970s, someone thought it was a good idea to turn The Paper Chase into a television series. (Actually, it isn’t a bad idea; but I don’t think it was well executed — at least during the first season.) In one episode, Hart was tutoring an African American woman. And he had a real attitude about it because, you know, Affirmative Action. So Kingsfield had him do a paper or something that caused Hart to have to read the Affirmative Action clause of Harvard, and Hart learned that he too might have been helped by the program because of growing up on a farm. And Hart improved his attitude in the way that only an hour long television drama can.

Unfortunately, all those Fox News watching freeloaders are never going to have their “road to Damascus” moment. They will remain convinced that welfare is just something that those people get. The good conservatives deserve everything that they get. This continues to be a huge problem in this country. The modern world is unbelievably complicated. We are all interconnected. But we have set up systems that allow the rich to pretend that they have done it all themselves and forces the poor to think that they are dependent — and that they are alone in their dependence. This is a delusion that we can ill afford.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

5 thoughts on “The Independence Delusion

  1. Recently I was talking to one of my conservative friends about Food Stamps and the Farm Bill. The discussion was prompted by the recent story about that gaggle of white people who got caught cheating the SNAP program.

    I sought out to make the pretty standard point that the Food Stamp program began as a attempt to offset the artificially high food prices that came from our myriad of high crop price policies. I pointed out how grotesque it was that the Tea Party wants to keep all of the welfare for farmers but they want to deny assistance to the poor, who are harmed by that very same welfare for the farmers. The funny thing is that I stumbled onto a a new point, I had not realized up until having that argument.

    I was pointing out that one of the ways that we help farmers is by having state run and state subsidized crop insurance. As I was saying that fact, it hit me like a lightening bolt. farmers have enjoyed state run and subsidized insurance on their crops for decades and yet they hate Obamacare, which mostly consists of state coordinated and lightly subsidized health insurance.

    I realized that the conservative movement in America has gotten to the point that the corn and wheat harvest in a given year is literally more important than the survival of poor and working class people. She may or may not know it but Joni “bread bags” Ernst literally holds corn profits as a far higher priority than if a poor black person lives or dies. Tall grasses need insurance but poor folks only need whiskey and prayer, to provide them with insurance for their own bodies would be the death of freedom in America.

    • “Whiskey and prayer” — I doubt most conservatives would allow poor folks half that much!

      Something I’ve observed over the years is that I’ve never seen a conservative turn down a handout, even one they don’t need. The logic seems to be “better it goes to me than those people.” It’s not a friendly country . . .

      • This is well illustrated with the Fox News freak out about the surfer kid getting food stamps. His argument was that it was available to him and so he was taking it. This was an outrage. But when Mitt Romney said even more (it would be unpatriotic not to take every tax deduction allowed him), it was applauded on Fox News. The truth is there is no consistency of opinion on the right, except that it is okay if you are rich.

    • That’s a brilliant observation. I’m curious what your conservative friends had to say. When I make this argument, conservatives usually say something like, “Well I don’t believe we should be supporting either!” Of course, conservatives will vote against people for providing food stamps but never for providing farm aid. What’s more, the farmers have money and so lobby Congress. SNAP beneficiaries don’t. It all goes back to the big 2009 surge in fiscal conservatism. Where were they when Bush was in power? And why are fiscal conservatives always for lowering taxes (hence increasing the deficit)? They are just lying. They simply hate the poor.

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